NEW YORK Latinos who've recently purchased or renovated a home, carry a wireless mobile phone and watch Spanish-language programming on satellite TV have probably never heard of digital and direct marketing guru Alberto Ferrer. But they've likely encountered his work somewhere, either online or in TV ad campaigns.
A child computer geek turned digital wunderkind, Ferrer, serves as managing partner and director of digital + direct marketing at The Vidal Partnership, a New York-based agency, where he and a powerhouse team are the visionaries behind winning marketing campaigns aimed at an increasingly digital Latino community.
"Being a techie means I know a little bit about the guts of technology and how it works," Ferrer, 38, says with a laugh, just as his computer freezes up during the mid-afternoon interview for this story and as he's trying to load up one of the Vidal Partnership's signature tricked-out media campaigns.
But that's not usually the case when he shows clients that technology is accessible to them and their customers "and can be easily used."
Some of the firm's best, most recognizable efforts—and there are many—include: the iconic Beto Casas, the virtual bilingual Century 21 realtor who shares home-buying tips via a dedicated Web site with would-be Latino homeowners; the soccer tie-in "Tu Casa Es Tu Cancha" for Home Depot, heralding the Latino residence as a playing field for any home improvement; and a digitally themed campaign introducing DirecTV's DVR to Latinos with an interactive remote control that online users point and click on a TV screen like they would do at home.
A Digitial Media All-Star in every sense of the phrase, Ferrer is one of a new generation of agency executives whose job brings together the converging worlds of digital and direct marketing. "I've found a good marriage between marketing and science," says Ferrer, whose own story seemingly fits a marketer's dream profile of the Latino market: Hispanic male born in Cuba, raised in Puerto Rico; married with one child; upwardly mobile and tech-savvy in every way.
Agency president and CEO Manny Vidal puts it this way: "Alberto inspires the entire firm to think digitally. All brand ideas must live, function and be digitally executable."
On the client side, marketers say Ferrer comes at them with both barrels loaded, dually equipped with expertise both in digital and the Hispanic market.
"I don't miss a beat with Alberto in the room," says Ted Moon, Sprint Nextel's director of digital marketing, who works with Ferrer on projects including the highly successful Second Life virtual world and the Hispanic music series planned for the soon-to-open Sprint Center. "I don't have to dumb down and translate the tech side of things. He knows our digital business and can tell us whether it will work in the Hispanic market. That's one of the real values that he brings to us."
In the case of real-estate chain Century 21, Ferrer is considered instrumental in bringing the company into the digital age with an animated series featuring an online Latino character, says Gilbert Monge, former director of interactive marketing at Century 21.
"No one would have ever thought of that in the general market, much less for online," Monge says. "We were a very rigid brand that was kind of stuck in its ways, and he put them on a path to the future."
Others who work closely with Ferrer describe him as a futurist and creative thinker who gives Vidal clients his 360-degree perspective as a marketer and digital expert in much the same way they later expect their corporate vision to play out in their media strategy.
"His strength is that he can distill a market that's evolving like the Hispanic market and make it easier for clients to understand the need to invest in digital," says Mark Lopez, publisher of AOL Media Networks' AOL Latino and a client. "He has a great marketing background, he gets the technology and the Internet, and he's adept at consuming a lot of data and so he understands what clients are looking for. "
And having a front row seat in the Hispanic market helped Ferrer and The Vidal team score big in 2006 with Nissan North America's "El Reto Final Nissan" ("The Nissan Final Rematch"). The five-part reality show/soccer match relived the historic 1997 World Cup qualifying match between Mexico and the United States. The series aired in Spanish on Fox Sports en Español and in English on Fox Soccer Channel. The 360-degree plan included promotions, online, TV and PR.
And even with the tremendous gee-whiz factor associated with his job, Ferrer says that for him the best part isn't so much about doing something that hasn't been done before, it's about "doing things that work and getting a brand before more people."